The 7 Best Travel Backpacks of 2023, According to Travel Experts
Get carried away! Make the journey to your next getaway a breeze with the best travel backpack.
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Forget what you think you know about backpacks. The hands-free hero bag has evolved over the decades to go beyond basic knapsacks for schlepping around school supplies and camping gear. The newest versions of the best travel backpack are equally functional and fashionable, and they suit just about any event, occasion or vacation.
“The right backpack is the ultimate carrying companion,” notes Aaron Luo, CEO of handbag company Caraa. “It holds all of your personal belongings and supports you while doing so. You shouldn’t have to break your back—figuratively or literally—to get from point A to point B throughout your day.”
So whether you need an underseat luggage option or a carry-on bag, if the goal is to travel smarter and pack lighter, there’s a backpack style for you. In addition to style and specific needs (like if you prefer a laptop backpack), comfort is a huge consideration. The best backpacks have lumbar support, padded straps and even special features, such as wire frames or metal stays for heavier loads.
“Having the right backpack for any activity ensures that you’re equipped with all the features and functionality for optimal comfort,” says Kevin Lau, a retail sales specialist at Rei. We sought out expert recommendations and sorted through user reviews and online ratings to find the backpacks that earn top scores for style and substance.
The best travel backpacks
- Best overall: Caraa Studio Bag
- Best value: Matein Travel Laptop Backpack
- Best lightweight: JanSport SuperBreak One Backpack
- Best large: Victorinox VX Sport Evo Two-in-One Backpack/Duffel
- Best for organization: Béis The Hanging Backpack
- Best for business: Samsonite Mobile Solution Convertible Backpack
- Best for kids: Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up Rainbow Backpack
Best overall travel backpack
Caraa Studio Bag
Caraa is loved for its chic convertible bags, and its Studio design will be a new favorite travel companion. It earns our best travel backpack spot for its superior versatility, fashionable and luxurious finishes and functional design details. Luxury water-resistant nylon and Italian leather accents are made to last, and a secure turn-lock main compartment, padded zippered back pocket and external easy-to-grab side pocket make packing a piece of cake. Thoughtful details—like breathing vents in the main compartment, a waterproof and antimicrobial lining and a moisture-wicking mesh back—make this bag worth the splurge. It also comes with a waterproof wet clothes bag and a waterproof shoe pouch.
“I LOVE LOVE LOVE this bag. And it never ceases to amaze me. I’ve had mine for a year and it still looks brand new—despite being used every day,” writes Tatiana, a verified reviewer.
- Three carrying modes
- Moisture-wicking backpack straps
- Anti-slip rubberized crossbody strap
- Dedicated 13-inch laptop pocket
- Available in two sizes and multiple colors
Best value travel backpack
Matein Travel Backpack
This wildly popular travel backpack has more than 2,100 five-star ratings on Amazon. Here’s why: The storage is exceptional. The two front organizer sections have spots for stashing keys, a wallet and a phone. The main compartment is roomy and ideal for daily essentials, and there’s a separate padded space for laptops and other small tech devices. It’s one of the best wallet-friendly Amazon carry-on luggage pieces.
“I travel 48 out of 52 weeks of the year and was looking for an inexpensive backpack that would be up for my travel challenges! Here it is! It’s perfect for my everyday tosses and bumps and being shoved into overhead bins on a plane. Fits nicely under the seat in front of me as long as I don’t pack it too full,” shares five-star reviewer, Emily C.
- Durable water-resistant and anti-scratch fabric
- Hidden anti-theft back zippered pocket
- Multi-panel ventilated padded back provides support
- Separate padded laptop compartment
- Includes a charging port, but not a portable charger
Best lightweight travel backpack
JanSport SuperBreak One Backpack
Since 1967, JanSport has continued to churn out some of the best backpacks for a reason: The durable construction is meant to last, and the affordable price point can’t be beat. This lightweight best travel backpack only weighs 10.6 ounces and is simple, yet sturdy. The classic design of this JanSport backpack boasts spacious storage in the main compartment, a front utility pocket with a built-in organizer, a coated interior, a web haul handle and padded shoulder straps.
“…[I] have taken it hiking, camping, traveled to multiple countries with it, subjected it many times to being stuffed to bursting and weighed down probably to 20+ pounds, and four years later, the only sign of significant wear that it shows is one tiny hole along one of the seams on the back,” writes verified purchaser, Katharine Hogan. For another great pick, check out the fold-up Paravel Backpack.
- Only weighs 10.6 ounces
- Water-repellent and abrasion-resistant fabric
- Available in 20 colors and prints
- Padded back panel and shoulder straps
- Main compartment doesn’t have much organization
Best large travel backpack
Victorinox VX Sport Evo Two-in-One Backpack/Duffel
From the brand that created the original Swiss Army Knife, Victorinox brings the same ingenuity and clever functionality to its range of travel gear. A trusty duffle bag gets an upgrade with this convertible carryall that we’re calling the best large backpack for travel. With a focus on practicality, durability and comfort, this two-in-one backpack/duffel is an indispensable companion for navigating any journey, near or far.
Hidden straps convert the duffle into a backpack and allow for hands-free cruising, whether you’re racing for a flight or meandering on an outdoor expedition. Crafted from extra-tough polyester, it holds up on outdoor adventures. Plus, handy multipurpose pockets offer versatile storage solutions to avoid packing mistakes, including a separate space for shoes and compartments for electronics. It’s a smart bag to have in your collection.
- 57-liter capacity
- Convertible multipurpose bag
- Adjustable padded backpack straps stow away when not in use
- Made of water-repellent fabric
- Has airflow channels in the padded back panels
- Only two colors available
Best travel backpack for organization
Béis The Hanging Backpack
Actress Shay Mitchell’s brand Béis (pronounced “base”) churns out fashionable and functional bags for stylish jet-setters with wanderlust. The Hanging Backpack looks like an ordinary carryall, but features an innovative interior to keep all your gear contained. With a sleek shape, water-repellent exterior and built-in organizational system, it’s the best travel backpack for weekend getaways or weeklong excursions. Pop open the snaps to reveal a removable shelving system. The accordion design allows for easy access and perfectly displays your belongings. It’s the best solution for anyone who hates unpacking, and a smart alternative to packing cubes, too.
“When I travel, I am all about being completely organized, and this bag from Béis is my go-to as my personal item,” says our shopping editor, Stephanie Hope. “I love that it slides easily over my carry-on luggage and can hold a few days’ worth of clothing and essentials.”
- Removable, compressible shelving system
- Lots of pockets for organization
- Adjustable padded straps
- Water-repellent fabric
- Laptop compartment
- Only one color option
Best travel backpack for business
Samsonite Mobile Solution Convertible Backpack
A good backpack should keep up with you, notes Luo, which is why he loves convertible styles. “It’s common to be on the move from morning until night,” he says, “and a backpack should be able to easily adjust from the office to a workout to a dinner date.” Samsonite, known for its superior luggage line, designed a convertible backpack that does just that. Using or removing the adjustable strap allows you to carry the bag in five unique ways: as a backpack, crossbody, over-the-shoulder bag, handheld bag or as an oversized clutch.
The multipurpose aspect of this quality luggage makes this one of the best business travel backpack options, allowing to seamlessly adapt the carrier for a range of occasions. Made with a sleek and sturdy nylon fabric with vinyl trim, it’s both boardroom-appropriate and chic enough to sport every day. As an added benefit, there’s a retractable “SmartSleeve” located in the exterior back zippered pocket, which fits over luggage handles for easy mobility when traveling.
- Convertible for business and beyond
- Water-resistant coating
- Interior padded tech sleeve
- Fits over luggage handles
- Only weighs 1.3 pounds
- Smaller capacity, so not suitable as the only bag for longer trips
Best travel backpack for kids
Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up Rainbow Backpack
Kids’ backpacks get heavy—fast. But there’s a smart solution to counter this problem. “Look for a very padded vented back, padded straps and a sternum strap for support,” advises Renee Silverman, president of Irv’s Luggage. This stylish number does the trick. Available in dozens of funky prints and five sizes (including a roller version), it has four roomy exterior compartments, a front zipper pocket with a cell phone holder, two D-rings in the front and back and a cinch mesh pocket on each side.
Even better? You’ll feel extra good about this kids’ travel backpack knowing it’s eco-friendly: The rugged, water-resistant recycled polyester is made from more than 12 recycled plastic bottles. In fact, the brand has kept 66 million plastic bottles out of landfills to date, thanks to their recycled designs.
- Variety of fun prints that appeal to kids
- Five size options
- Easy-to-clean, water-resistant material
- Made of recycled material
- Customization available
- Personalized items not eligible for returns
What to consider when buying a travel backpack
Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes. There are duffle backpacks, rolling backpacks, mini backpacks, laptop backpacks and more. The style you should choose largely depends on the activity and the duration of the trip.
“You want something that looks fantastic in any scenario, from the airport to exploring a new city, but also has all the function to hold your stuff and keep you organized,” says Adeela Hussain Johnson, president of Béis. If the backpack is essentially replacing a roller, then look for an option a bit bigger that has built-in packing functionality to fit everything you need to travel, like clothes, travel accessories, makeup and a laptop, says Johnson. But you also want a design with smart organization and dedicated compartments to make packing easier and keep small items, like jewelry and power cords, safe and secure.
If you’re looking for stylish travel backpacks that work as a personal item for a flight, or need something more for everyday use, then go for a smaller versatile bag, suggests Johnson. (She loves expandable options, like this one from Béis.) “What if you decide to go shopping or go crazy in duty-free before the flight—easily expand it by unzipping it and then collapse it again when you don’t need that space. It’s all about options.”
For Luo, he says the best travel backpack should be hyper-lightweight with a dedicated luggage sleeve to fly through the airport with ease. “Pick padded straps that support the back for days when you’ve packed everything but the kitchen sink,” he advises.
If you plan to check your luggage, straps that tuck or hide away—so they don’t get caught in conveyor belts or drag on the ground—will make the voyage run more smoothly. Lau shares another hack for flying, “I like to have a TSA-approved laptop and tablet sleeve, so I don’t have to completely remove my laptop from the bag.”
How we found the best travel backpacks
As shopping experts, our only job is to help you find a winning product. We start with the research and reporting basics—what products are made of, what they look like and how much they cost—to ensure that we’re only recommending the buys that are worth your time and money. Then, we research the features that speak to the product’s quality, taking advice from industry insiders and subject matter experts on what makes a product a smart value (or worthy of a splurge). Finally, we do the work of combing through user reviews to see how real people interact with the product, and if it stands up to the test.
Is it better to travel with a backpack or suitcase?
The best travel backpack is a versatile carry-on bag that allows you to easily maneuver—hands-free—through busy airports and crowded towns. If you’re backpacking or traveling by foot, portability is paramount, so backpacks are usually the best bet. But, if you’re going on a longer trip and need to pack more items, a roller suitcase or hard shell luggage might be a better option.
What size travel backpack do I need?
It depends on the length of the trip. Small knapsacks may be suitable for overnight getaways while you’ll want a larger, more substantial size for weekend trips. For vacations longer than a week, check out the top luggage brands and best luggage sets. And if you’re on a budget, scope out the best luggage deals for major discounts.
How much can fit in a carry-on backpack?
The best carry-on backpack should be able to hold at least a couple of days’ worth of clothes, accessories, shoes and toiletries. Using packing cubes and compression bags and rolling clothes help maximize space in the backpack. But the exact amount of stuff that fits will vary depending on the style and design of the bag.
Most airlines allow a carry-on with a maximum size of 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches and a weight of 22 pounds (although, many domestic airlines don’t have weight restrictions). But remember, just because a backpack can carry a ton, doesn’t mean it should, especially when it’s a kid doing the carrying. To prevent injury and backaches, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 to 15% of their body weight.
Are all carry-on backpacks airline-approved?
Do you plan to put the carry-on backpack in the overhead bin of the plane or under the seat? Every airline has different size restrictions for each, so double-check with the carrier to avoid unwanted baggage fees.